Ontario turkey firm to spend $8.1M on new city plant
Tax rebates eyed for $8.1M revamp to bring 50 jobs to industrial area
An Ontario turkey producer with Essex County roots has ambitious plans for a century-old industrial property in Windsor’s core — building an $8.1-million packaging plant and hiring 50 people.
The 4.5-acre site in the 1500 block of Mercer Street, between Howard Avenue and McDougall Street, is currently the home of a three-storey, 52,000-square-foot building that’s served as a massive freezer for 100 years, initially for storing ice, then as a curling club, and for the last 30 years as a warehouse, according to Tyler Schlegel of Belwood Poultry. His family firm, which bought the Windsor Freezer Services property in 2016, plans to make improvements to the old building and keep it for storage, plus build a new 30,000-squarefoot packaging operation.
On Monday, his company’s application for incentives from the City of Windsor’s Business Retention and Expansion Grant Program goes to council’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee. Under the plan, the firm would receive a rebate every year for 10 years equal to the difference between the municipal taxes paid now ($5,905) and what they would be once the new building is constructed ($88,047). The total grants would add up to $821,419.
“It’s huge,” Schlegel said of the incentive program. “It’s a great program and it really makes Windsor a lot more attractive to operate there. It’s pretty substantial.”
In a November document provided to the city, Belwood says that investing in the new packaging facility at the Windsor Freezer site is its preferred option. The other options are to do nothing and abandon the export market due to lack of capacity; contract out the work to other firms, which would be a money-loser; locate a new packaging plant near its Amherstburg processing plant; and locate it in Waterloo Region near the company’s Kitchener corporate office.
The city’s incentive plan “would make the option to locate the new facility in Windsor the most attractive location option for the company,” the company said.
“Belwood could stay at its current size and not risk capital and not invest in growth. However, with your support the company will have the ability to invest and expand, creating jobs in Windsor for the long term.”
Belwood’s main facility in Amherstburg processes 10,000 birds a day, three days per week during peak periods like now. But customers tend to buy whole turkeys only during the Christmas and Thanksgiving periods, said Schlegel, whose turkeys are raised on family farms in the Wingham area.
“It’s our opinion that turkey is a fairly under-represented protein on store shelves,” he said.
Belwood would like to expand and increase production during slow periods by moving into packaged products like turkey breasts, wings and drumsticks, he said, and expand into the U.S. market.
It doesn’t have the capacity to do that now. By adding the operation in Windsor, where whole turkeys would be packaged into tray packs and other retail products, Belwood hopes to double the dollar value of its production, said Schlegel.
He said the Windsor operation would be very clean, with no odours and with waste product shipped out in refrigerated tractor-trailers. In fact, everything going in and going out would be by refrigerated trailer. The product arriving would be whole turkeys already slaughtered and processed in Amherstburg and ready to be cut up and packaged, he said.
He estimated pay for hourly staff will be $15 to $17 an hour.
Coun. Rino Bortolin, who represents the core area and grew up nearby on Marentette Avenue, said he doesn’t believe residents will be opposed to such an operation — as long as it’s not noisy or disruptive — because they’re used to living with industry. The corridor between Howard and McDougall has always been industrial, though many of the plants and properties are now empty, he said.
“And it’s not a bad thing to fill them back up again.”
He recalled his family moved to Marentette so his dad could walk to the nearby Kelsey Hayes plant. Having places of employment so close to home makes for a walkable neighbourhood, he said.
“So seeing activity in there, and 50 more jobs, that’s awesome.”
The former Windsor Freezer Services Ltd. building at Mercer and Shepherd streets may be renovated for a turkey-processing business.